Girl injured at Giants game fails in claim bid

Belfast Giants in action against the Fife Flyers at the Odyssey Arena, Belfast.
Belfast Giants in action against the Fife Flyers at the Odyssey Arena, Belfast.

A schoolgirl spectator hit on the forehead by an ice hockey puck at a Belfast Giants match is not entitled to damages, a judge ruled yesterday.

Courtney Harris-Browning was seeking £30,000 in a potentially landmark action.

But Mr Justice Gillen dismissed the 18-year-old’s negligence High Court claim after declaring the Belfast venue had been made as safe as reasonably possible.

He said: “The risks were no different from those which exist in a number of other sporting arenas including field hockey, football, cricket, rugby or golf. Such risks are amongst the jolts and jogs to be expected of sporting life.”

Ice hockey bosses elsewhere feared the case could open the floodgates to actions.

Ms Harris Browning was bidding to become the first spectator in the UK to sue successfully after being struck by a puck leaving the ice rink.

She was 12 when injured during a warm-up before a match against the Cardiff Devils in September 2008. A puck came off the rink and struck her over the eye, inflicting a wound which left a scar and needed four stitches. She was sitting with friends about 14 rows from the ice.

Warning signs had been displayed on entrances to the arena, the court heard. PA annoucements also advised spectators to watch the pucks.

Lawyers for the girl sued the Belfast Giants 2008 Ltd and the Odyssey Trust Company Ltd, alleging negligence and a failure to provide enough barriers to protect fans. They claimed it was impossible for her to keep an eye on the puck because up to 20 were on the rink during the warm-up.

Evidence was also given by another girl said to have been hit in the eye in a separate accident in February 2008.

But Belfast Giants General Manager Todd Kelman testified that in his 14 years with the team these were the only two known such injuries.

With up to 120,000 spectators attending the Odyssey to watch ice hockey each season, Mr Kelman stressed that the defendants had complied with International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) regulations.

Providing netting to go above Perspex glass around the rink would cost £50,000-£60,000, the court heard.

Mr Justice Gillen said: “The plaintiff was injured as the result of a danger inherent in the sport itself which she must be taken to have accepted and against which the defendants cannot reasonably have expected to guard.”

Acknowledging that just two such injuries were known of, he added: “This is not a case of relentless occurrence.”

Outside the court Mr Kelman said they “take every precaution” and exceed “IIHF guidelines on public safety”.